There is a place called Indian Hills Community Center--in amazingly enough--Indian Hills, Colorado. They have a signboard that posts a lot of real funny, and sometimes culturally or politically challenging sayings. One I just saw posted on FB that is pertinent to today’s readings, at least to me, says: “If a cow doesn’t produce milk, is it a milk dud, or an udder failure?”
More about this later!
Our reading from Jeremiah follows the same basic premise as what we have heard already for weeks now from prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah: “bad people of Israel, bad kings, bad religious leaders—bad, bad, bad!!! You have not followed my Godly laws and your prophets’ words and repented in your ways, so you will see really awful futures, you and your children. You will be overrun and I will let it happen.” Contemporaries Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah spoke about this in the 8th century BC, while Jeremiah lectured the Jewish people in the late 7th/6th century BC just before and then during the takeover and exile by the Babylonians in 587 BC.
Jeremiah, also called the "weeping prophet", was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah authored the Book of Jeremiah, the Books of Kings and appropriately, the Book of Lamentations, with the assistance and under the editorship of Baruch ben Neriah, his scribe and disciple.
Jeremiah was called to prophetic ministry around 626 BC by God to give prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction that would occur by invaders from the north. This was because Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken God by worshiping Baal. Jeremiah condemned people burning their children as offerings to Moloch. This nation had deviated so far from God that they had severely broken the covenant, causing God to withdraw his blessings. Jeremiah was guided by God to proclaim that the nation of Judah would be faced with famine, plundered, and taken captive by foreigners who would exile them to a foreign land. He condemned their idolatry, the greed of their priests, and false prophets.
The Jewish king and religious leaders eventually captured and intended to have him killed, but a few allies assured this did not happen. But Jeremiah did remain imprisoned until Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army. The Babylonians released Jeremiah, and showed him great kindness, allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence.
Our reading from Hebrew moves from condemnation of bad ways, to exhorting the faithful to good ways.
--Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Have you ever wondered that?
--Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
--Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
--Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
There is a meme that gives similar meanings to the words of The Golden Rule in several different faith traditions:
Buddhism: “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”
Christianity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Hinduism: “Treat others as you would yourself be treated.”
Islam: “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you.”
Judaism: “What you hate yourself, do to no man.”
Native American: “Live in harmony, because we are all related.”
Sacred Earth: “Live as you will, as long as you harm no one.”
Our Gospel today from Luke has some challenging ideas for us to think about. Jesus certainly does not shy away from the Jewish leaders, as he even went to one’s house for a meal on the Sabbath, knowing these Pharisees were watching him closely. (By the way, is traveling on the Sabbath considered to be work?)
There are a few verses left out of this Bible passage (verses 2-6), which I cannot see why they would be left out, so I will add them now. “Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. (I did not know what that ailness is, but I do now. It is an old term for edema, or accumulation of fluids in the body. My own life experience the past 5 years with congestive heart failure and fluids settling in my legs and feet IS just that?) And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. (I wish that could be so myself!) Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.” Jesus hammered on this working on the Sabbath thing with those leaders over and over to shame them, as they refused to move away from their extreme interpretation of the laws into heartless nonsense that no one could follow.
Then he brought it all closer to home for these Pharisees and the well to do people in the house for the meal. He said, “Don’t act like you are special and deserve the best seats in the house, just because of who you think you are. The host may come along and tell you to move lower because they have more important guests to seat, and you are then disgraced in front of everyone. Instead pick the lowest place, so that you might be moved higher and thus honored. And he also told them to not have dinners just among your friends, but have them for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind—those you normally would not give a first thought to.
Jesus worked on these people all the time, and that’s why they finally had him killed. He constantly turned their set little world of God, packaged in their scrolls of extreme laws, upside down--calling them out for their greed, false piety, fake worship and honor of God, and for not doing what God had told them concerning the weak, poor and outcast among them.
So, back to the cow producing milk sign board at the first of my talk. Yes, it’s funny (sort of!), but it also shows up the modern day sense of judgment of worth or worthiness being dependent on the ability to produce or work. Maybe what Jesus is saying is that all should have worth or value, and should be treated in that way, not judged or deemed unworthy. Hence, being humble and showing respect or deference for all leads to a better worldly outcome.
Love is the key, Jesus said, with the command to us all to Love God, and Love One Another. The challenge is not picking and choosing who “Another” is. Boy, this one is hard! Amen!